UK starts legal proceedings against EU over access to Horizon program

The UK has launched legal proceedings against the EU for preventing its access to key scientific and research programs such as Horizon Europe and the nuclear organization Euratom.

The move marks an escalation in tension between the two sides after Westminster took unilateral action in June to scrap post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland, which has since been challenged by the EU.

Access to the EU’s flagship programme, EUR 100 billion, Horizon Europe and other scientific groups such as Euratom and Copernicus, the Earth Observation Programme, was agreed in December 2020 under the post-Brexit trade and cooperation agreement, once the EU “associated country status”.

“No additional negotiations are foreseen,” said an EU document published at the time.

But the Foreign Office said on Tuesday that the EU had consistently “refused to finalize entry into the UK”, despite non-EU countries such as Israel and Turkey already being part of the Horizon scheme.

“The EU is clearly violating our agreement and is repeatedly trying to politicize essential scientific cooperation by refusing to finalize access to these important programmes. We cannot allow this to continue,” said Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who is currently leading the polls to become the UK’s next prime minister.

“In our sight [18 months] is an unreasonable delay and adversely affects the scientific community,” added a British diplomat.

The European Commission said it “has taken note of the UK’s request for consultations and will act in accordance with the applicable rules, as set out in the [TCA]”.

“It is important to remember the political context for this. There are serious problems with the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and parts of the TCA,” said an EU official.

The unblocking of UK membership to Horizon was seen as a consideration for the UK making concessions on trade arrangements for Northern Ireland.

The row over the Northern Ireland protocol, which was agreed as part of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and created a border in the Irish Sea, has intensified since Westminster announced laws that would unilaterally withdraw it from its agreement with Brussels. to withdraw.

The EU granted the UK a month’s delay on Monday to respond to reactive legal proceedings launched by Brussels accusing the UK of four violations of the Northern Ireland Treaty.

The response deadline – September 15 – will coincide with the end of the 30-day period for “formal consultations” over the UK’s access to EU science programmes, which has begun with proceedings launched by London on Tuesday.

The EU currently has five legal proceedings pending against the UK under the TCA. The Horizon challenge will be the UK’s first.

In July, UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng published a series of measures to support science and research if UK access to Horizon, Euratom, Copernicus and other programs were to be cut.

Westminster has pledged £17 billion to Horizon Europe until 2027, should it be accepted.

The British procedure was criticized by the British opposition Labor party. Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy called on both the EU and the UK to “show more flexibility” in resolving the issues surrounding Horizon and the protocol.

“Rather than continuing the pattern of incipient squabbles with the EU to appeal to their Tory base, the next prime minister should sit down with all sides to ease tensions and reach agreement on the national importance,” Lammy added.

Additional reporting by Sebastian Payne in London

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